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Florida Teacher Embarks On Mission To Teach Students Table Manners


In the same Florida county where the president entertains world leaders at his Mar-a-Lago estate, fifth graders at a nearby school learn the art of table manners each year. Peter Haden of member station WLRN reports.

PETER HADEN, BYLINE: At South Grade Elementary in Lake Worth, Fla., art teacher Rebecca Hinson drills etiquette like a boot camp - posture...

REBECCA HINSON: You need to sit up straight. Your dress isn't going to look good if you're slumped there like the old humpback.

HADEN: ...Proper technique...

HINSON: Cut, and eat.

HADEN: ...And soup tactics.

HINSON: Are we going to ladle towards ourselves or away?


HINSON: And the kids - they're into it, especially 11-year-old Keontae Slaughterbeck.

KEONTAE: You stab the meat. Use the knife to cut that part. Then all you have to do is twist your wrist, and that will be a easy way to get it to your mouth instead of going, like, the usual way.

HADEN: When do you think in life you'll use these things?

KEONTAE: If we ever go to a prom and we take our girl to a fancy restaurant. Like, we use the resting position if we need to go get something from the car.

HINSON: I want you to show me the resting position for steak right now - good, good.

HADEN: Ms. Hinson started teaching formal etiquette to her fifth graders at South Grade about 12 years ago. She'd read a newspaper article about etiquette classes for students in the affluent town of Palm Beach just across the bridge.

HINSON: There's high society all around us in this county, and there's great disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

HADEN: Palm Beach County is home to many of the richest and poorest communities in Florida. The wealth gap is more like a chasm. Last school year, more than 99 percent of students at South Grade Elementary qualified for free or reduced lunch.

HINSON: They may never get the chance ever again to learn this.

HADEN: Kim McChesney's daughter Paige is in Ms. Hinson's etiquette class. She thinks these presentation skills will help the students in job interviews or other professional situations.

KIM MCCHESNEY: They can go back later down the road and say they learned it from Rebecca Hinson's art class in fifth grade (laughter).

HADEN: The culmination of etiquette instruction is the high tea. Ms. Hinson brings in her own stemware and silver to set the long, white table in the middle of her classroom. Students pass three-tiered trays of sandwiches, fruit and cream puffs.

KEONTAE: I like cream puffs.

HADEN: They're joined by honored guests, the school's new principal, Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies. And since many of the kids are from Guatemalan families, the local head of the new Guatemalan consulate is here.


HADEN: Fifth-grader Tasha Joseph stands with a raised glass.

TASHA JOSEPH: I'd like to give a toast for my awesome class. We've had so many fun memories. It's like we're brothers and sisters. I'd like to thank the Guatemalan ambassador for being here and everybody for being here today. Thank you.


HADEN: And if anyone thinks it's not Ms. Hinson's place to teach etiquette...

HINSON: When you sit down on a long table with white linens and shimmering silver and gleaming, white porcelain and beautiful food and lovely children with fine manners, I'm sorry. This is beautiful.

HADEN: And art teachers, Hinson says, are in the beauty business. For NPR News, I'm Peter Haden in Lake Worth, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Haden
Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.